Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle says this morning’s meeting between the Governor-General, a United Progressive Party delegation, and members of the clergy was very cordial, and he continues to be optimistic that His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams will do the right thing.
During the 90-minute meeting, MP Pringle presented a petition circulated by Concerned Citizens who are requesting that Sir Rodney convene a Commission of Inquiry into several related issues.
These include the genesis and operations of the short-lived Antigua Airways; the eventual stranding of hundreds of West Africans here; and the fallout this has caused nationally and further abroad.
Pringle reports that the petition, so far, has garnered more than 8,500 signatures and that the drive will be continued.
Sir Rodney is reported to have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the delegation. But, he reminded them, he must consult with his attorneys and with the Administration before he makes a decision. Accordingly, Pringle says, they are prepared to give him time to do so.
In the meantime, the Opposition Leader is concerned that the fallout from the Browne Administration’s actions will likely affect the viability of regional integration, since Antigua and Barbuda’s government has shown itself not to be trustworthy.
He is referring to the fact that Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently reneged on his agreement with St. Kitts to accept about a dozen Cameroonians who were rescued at sea after their attempt to get to the US Virgin Islands failed.
Since the migrants were coming from Antigua, Pringle points out, it was only reasonable that they be returned here. However, this good-faith agreement was unilaterally broken by Browne. The Administration had promised to “do the right thing,” Pringle says, and then turned around and did the opposite.
The Immigration Department’s last official count of the mainly Cameroonian visitors was more than 600 persons still on island. But in a press conference held in early April, the Department head acknowledged that a couple hundred might have left the country by unlawful means.
Ironically, there were allegations made today, May 17, that only 19 of these visitors remain in Antigua. It is widely believed that most of the West Africans left – and continue to leave – illegally by boat, headed for countries that will get them closer to their ultimate destination: the United States of America.
There are just too many unknowns, Pringle concludes; and, since these could create the opportunity for greater fallout in the region and further afield, a public inquiry is needed.
This morning’s delegation comprised Pringle, MP Anthony Smith, Jr., MP Kelvin “Shugy” Simon, Senators Shawn Nicholas and Johnathan Joseph, and Bishop Rolston Jeffery, Pastor Paul Andrew, and Pastor John Athill.
The group had the stated support of Barbuda MP Trevor Walker and, reportedly, of independent MP Asot Michael, as well.
A source says that a significant number of police officers was on the premises of Government House ahead of and during the meeting.